The faint nebula surrounding the red giant star ESO 577-24 can only be seen for 10,000 years, but at least that last breath has been immortalized by the Very Large Telescope.
This week’s satellite image is: A beautiful shot of a planetary nebula about 1,400 light-years away from Earth. The dead giant star at the nebula’s center has shed its outer layers of gas, leaving behind a hot dwarf star. This residue will cool and fade from now on.
If you open the image and zoom in, you’ll also see dozens — perhaps hundreds — of galaxies in the background. These are galaxies that lie behind the nebula and can be seen through gas clouds.
What is a red giant?
Red giants are stars in the final stages of their lives. Its core runs out of hydrogen and then swells. They grow hundreds of times larger and engulf nearby planets. After that, the red giants lose their outer layers of gas. The Sun will also swell into a red giant within a few billion years and consume the planets Mercury, Venus, and Earth.
It can only be seen with a powerful telescope
A planetary nebula is clearly visible in this image taken by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, but if you looked at this piece of sky in the constellation Virgo with your own eyes, it would be difficult to spot this object. Take a look at the video below and see how zoomed in it is before the nebula appears on screen.
The good news is that the death of a star also provides the opportunity for a new life. Who knows, the gas layers of the red giant star might be used again one day to form a new star.
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